May 15, 2015 | Written By: Ewan Moore
Tags: xenoblade, xenoblade chronicles, xenoblade chronicles 3d, overall, minor elements, gameplay, story, graphics, design, environment, legend of zelda, skyrim, sonic the hedgehog, super smash bros, xenoblade x,
Xenoblade Chronicles 3D
Developer: Monster Games
Release Date: April 2nd
Before we get into this review of Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, here are some important confessions: I’ve never been a massive fan of heavily involved RPGs, I had never heard of Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii until this port was announced, and my first exposure to the Xenoverse was in the recent Smash Bros games.
But despite all of that, I find Xenoblade Chronicles 3D to be an immersive, charming, and engaging title, and if it turns out to be the only game that makes use of the New 3DS’ improved hardware, I’ll be a happy chap.
Graphics, Design and Environment: 8/10
Developer Monster Games have clearly struck some kind of deal with the devil in order to squeeze such an enormous world into a portable machine. I’ve seen a bunch of people bemoaning the fact that it doesn’t look as good as the Wii version, but to be frank, it doesn’t look that much worse. The main casts’ facial expressions are full of detail and expression, and while a few textures aren’t entirely up to scratch, the world still conveys an impressive sense of scale. After my first two hours with the game, being suitably impressed with the size of my hometown and surrounding area, finally reaching the vast Guar Planes absolutely took my breath away. I’m still so very far from sick of climbing up to the highest point I can find, and then jumping into a lake below.
Subsequent hours were spent simply wondering around, collecting items, completing quests and leveling up before I even came close to continuing on with the story. It’s a rare open world where every inch is begging to be explored. More than once I ran afoul of a creature I was greatly underprepared for, and was swiftly beaten down. These failures often reminded me of the first Zelda. On a real adventure, there’s every chance that you could meet something that’ll swat you away like a fly, and the game becomes so much more rewarding in those moments when you realise you’re finally ready to go back and take on a monster that so often bested you earlier on.
Sidequests somehow never begin to feel dull, despite the fact that they all basically amount to “kill X of X”, “find X for X” or “collect X of X”. Perhaps it’s because there are so many enemy types, or so much to collect and see that you’ll never feel quite like you’re repeating the exact same task. Quests also offer EXP, and since there are so, so many of them to do, you should never feel like grinding through hordes of the same monster over and over again is the only way to level up.
I’ve always been put off by many RPG’s before by the sheer volume of stuff you need to remember: What equipment works best with who, buffs, debuffs, skill trees, endless numbers that begin to lose meaning and force my eyes to dribble out of my sockets and leave the country... it’s usually too much to bear for my puny brain, though I’ve always had the upmost respect for those who know exactly to boss an RPG.
Thankfully, my will to play Xenoblade outweighed my fear of RPG’s, and the game kindly takes its time to get you acquainted with everything you need to know about the battle system, levelling up, quests, and the like. As with any good game, it starts you off slow and gently feeds you the more advanced stuff once you’re ready. If there’s anything you missed, or you feel that you’ve learned enough about the game for one day, you can pull up any of the tutorials from the menu at any time. Perhaps this is a little irritating for seasoned RPGers, but for a newbie like me it was the feature that stopped me from locking my 3DS in a fridge and crying.
The battle system itself may be familiar to seasoned role players, but the height of my experience is either Pokémon or Skyrim, neither of which could exactly be called complicated in terms of fighting. Xenoblade delivers a combat system which runs in real time, and it continues to intrigue me hundreds of battles later. Your ability to freely move around the enemy, coupled with the idea that certain moves are more effective on certain parts of a monster’s body encourages a real sense of strategy.
For example; None of your moves run on Magic Points, or PP, or anything like that, but they do have a cool down period. So, say one of your currently available moves is more effective when you strike the monster from behind, but said monster has currently taken a disliking to you and won’t leave you alone. You could use the move right away and do some damage, or you could wait until another one of your party pisses off the monster so much that it turns its back on you, and then you can unleash your attack to its full effect.
This small touch helps to make battles feel so much dynamic and involved (and more importantly stops fights from getting boring). At no point in battle have I ever felt like I’m simply standing around and waiting for my turn. I’m constantly circling the enemy, always aware of which moves can be used next, and where I’ll need to be to get the most out of them.
Battles aren’t initiated by walking around in some grass for the better part of ten years while waiting to be taken to a separate battle screen either. All enemies are a part of the world, and it’s a true joy to see a giant dinosaur like creature wondering across a grassy hill in the sunset, or to be ambushed by a shark when you’re exploring a lake in the rain. This seamless merging of combat and world makes it the most immersive battle system I’ve ever played, and only adds to Xenoblade’s formidable sense of scale.
Unfortunately I’ve found that things can sometimes get confusing in fights with three or more enemies. The 3DS screen isn’t the biggest thing in the world, and when you have a party of three duking it out with another three creatures, it can become a struggle to keep track of the action. I’ve found that one particular problem is losing track of how much life my characters have left in them. With your party’s status displayed on the bottom screen, and all the intense action going off on the top, it can be easy to forget to glance down. On more than a few occasions I’d kicked the bucket without realizing quite what was going on.
Thankfully, death doesn’t come with any ridiculously harsh consequences, and I have started to condition my brain to look at the health situation every so often, but it can be very easy to become flustered and overwhelmed whenever a lot of enemies decide to have a go at once (and that does happen quite a bit).
The story itself offers an intriguing science fiction concept. The game takes place in a distant future where humans live on the decaying body of a giant god like creature, and live in fear of a race of mechanical aliens who could swoop down and devour them at any time (which they indeed do). Shulk is this world’s only hope, as he can wield the Monado, an awesome looking red sword that can slice through the mechanical aliens, and allows him to see into the future.
This seeing into the future gimmick not only creates some interesting story moments, but also serves you in battles. Occasionally during a fight, Shulk will receive a “vision” of a monster landing a particularly nasty move on you or one of your party. You’re then given a set amount of time to prepare for the attack. You could ignore it, and callously watch a friend get mauled to death... or you could protect everyone with a shield charm, or maybe heal the potential victim up so the attack doesn’t kill them. It’s up to you, but it’s another great way in which Xenoblade distinguishes itself from other RPG’s and keeps things fresh.
Anyway, eventually Shulk and his mate decide they’ve had enough of these aliens, and leave their own colony to find a way to kill them all. Thus begins a charming and surprisingly engaging story with a great road trip vibe to it. It helps that the cast are all largely likable, and with the aid of voice acting that isn’t great but also isn’t laughably bad, you’ll really feel an attachment to these characters by the end. The writing can sometimes come off a little cheesy too, but you’ll easily find yourself wrapped up in it all, and might even shed a tear at some of the more heavy handed emotional moments. I also feel it’s worth mentioning that Doctor Who’s Jenna Coleman lends her pipes to one character. That doesn’t really affect what I think of the game either way... but I think Jenna Coleman is just swell.
Minor Elements - Audio, Replay and Detail: 10/10
Annoyingly, nobody seemed to think it would be worth utilizing the 3DS touch screen during development. For a game where you spend 10% of your time in some kind of menu sorting equipment or skills, this really seems like a missed opportunity to me. The option to move even a little faster would also have been nice. True, you can fast travel to most major locations (with impressively few loading screens) and it’s far from the worst world to have to walk through, but there are times where you’ll be spamming the jump button just because it creates the illusion of moving faster.
At any rate, Xenoblade has an ungodly amount of things to see and do. We’re talking an almost Skyrim level of playtime that you’ll be racking up here, as NPC’s throw quests at you thick and fast, and you happily wonder around this lush green, alien world soaking up a fantastic soundtrack that combines Sonic the Hedgehog style fast paced rock with Zelda’s sweeping orchestral sense of adventure.
Xenoblade Chronicles might seem like an odd choice to be ported to a handheld, but the fact you can save anywhere at any time, coupled with the fact that this is a huge game with dozens upon dozens of hours of content actually makes it a perfect fit for gaming on the go. Before I played this game, I would have said it probably wasn’t for everyone... but take it from someone who is hopeless at RPGs: Xenoblade is ultimately accessible and incredibly rewarding if you take a bit of time to get used to it. If you’re thinking about trying to get into the genre, Xenoblade is a great place to start.
If you own a New 3DS and you missed Xenoblade Chronicles the first time round, you need this game. It offers a huge world to explore, it’s packed with quests and secrets to discover, massive beasties to fight, and some truly ingenious battle mechanics. Sure, a few things have been lost in the transition to handheld, but this is a fantastic RPG, and a wonderful game in general. One of the best handheld experiences I’ve ever had, hands down.